“Choices are the hinges of destiny.”
– Pythagoras, Greek philosopher
ALDS GAME 3: KEY MOMENT
In the pivotal game of the Yankees-Orioles division series, manager Joe Girardi made one the boldest and ballsiest calls in major-league postseason history.
With his big power-hitter Alex Rodriguez 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the game and 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the series, Girardi elected to sit the most dangerous home run hitter of this generation and replace him with a 40-year-old left-handed hitter to face the American League’s best closer this season in right-hander Jim Johnson.
The Yankees were down 2-1 and they were two outs away from being left down in the playoff series 2-1 to the upstart Orioles.
But Girardi was resolute in his decision. He told Rodriguez to sit and Ibanez to grab a bat.
Think of the blowback if Ibanez had failed. The New York scribes would have had a foot race to the clubhouse for reaction from A-Rod. Headlines would have blared “Joe Loses Cool By Subbing Raul” or “Joe Panics; Yanks Fall.”
That, of course, is the nature of the New York media. They are with you until you fail and then you are left out to dry. Billy Martin, Yogi Berra Dick Howser were folded spindled and mutilated by the headline hungry denizens in the Bronx Zoo.
But after Johnson had retired Ichiro Suzuki, the crowd on the one hand stunned and, on the other hand, hopeful with fingers and toes crossed routed on Ibnez as he lumbered to the plate.
“Raul had to come through,” Girardi said. “Raul had some kind of day for us today, and you have to make decisions sometimes that are tough decisions. But I just had a gut feeling.”
Ibanez had his share of travails this season, too.
In spring training, Ibanez hit in the first three weeks of spring training as if he just picked up a bat at age 40 and was giving the major leagues a try. It was if he could not hit a ball off a tee he was so bad. But Girardi told the press that Ibanez was a professional hitter his entire career and that he had faith he would turn it around soon.
Sure enough, Ibanez starting roping line drives all over the place at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, and the wolves (the writers) were forced to stop baying at the moon.
Ibanez then became an integral part of the Yankees success this season. Forced into playing more outfield than he had expected in the absence of starting left-fielder Brett Gardner, Ibanez hit 19 home runs, drove in 62 runs and batted .240 in 340 at-bats this season for the Yankees.
Of course, Ibanez also fell into a severe slump in late August that bled into September. Once again, Girardi kept faith with his veteran outfielder/designated hitter. And again Ibanez rewarded the skipper.
Beginning with a Sept. 22 game against Oakland in which Ibanez entered the game as pinch-hitter in the fifth inning and he ended up hitting two game-tying homers, he went on a full-fledged tear in the final two weeks of the season. Ibanez went 15-for-37 (.405) with five home runs and nine RBIs down the stretch.
He also punctuated his hot streak with a game-tying two-run pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth and a game-winning RBI single in the 12th in a must-win 4-3 victory the Red Sox on Oct. 2.
But those heroics on Sept. 22 and Oct. 2 were but a dress rehearsal for what he was being asked to do on Wednesday. It is one thing to pinch-hit for Casey McGehee (as he did on Sept. 22) or Eduardo Nunez (as he did on Oct. 2). It is quite another to pinch-hit for A-Rod.
That is pressure.
But Ibanez was able to cast it aside enough to concentrate on what he wanted to do: Get a Johnson sinker up enough so that he could launch it into the seats. Johnson provided it on the very first pitch and Ibanez took care of it.
The subdued but hopeful crowd of 50,497 seemed to rise as one while the baseball traveled on a low, line-drive trajectory towards the straightaway right-field. It rose well over the head of Oriole defensive replacement Endy Chavez and some five rows into the bleachers.
On the top step of the dugout cheering loudly was A-Rod.
“Maybe 10 years ago, I’d react a much different way. But I’m at a place in my career right now where team means everything,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think there was anybody in the ballpark more excited for Raul than me.”
That home run, harkening Yankee fans back to the days of Bucky Dent, Reggie Jackson and Aaron Boone, allowed the Yankees to stave off what would have been a saddening blow to their playoff hopes. But Ibanez wasn’t having it.
The game remained tied until Ibanez’s next at-bat leading off the bottom of the 12th. Orioles manager Buck Showalter had opted to leave in left-hander Brian Matusz to face him.
Again, Ibanez was looking for a pitch up to drive. Matusz threw a chest high fastball but it was in the middle of the plate. Ibanez was ready and the sound so familiar to the fans rang out all over Yankee Stadium.
Ibanez, knew, Matusz knew and the fans there and those watching at home knew where it was going.
In one mere stretch of just two swings in two at-bats, Ibanez – should the Yankees advance to their 28th world championship – will be remembered in Yankee lore for what he did this evening.
While they are at it, they should also remember the guts it took for Girardi to push the correct button. Managers seem to get little of the credit and most of the blame in baseball.
This is not one of those instances. Girardi played his roster like a maestro and the music hit a real high note in the Bronx.
The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.
THIRD BASE – ALEX RODRIGUEZ (18 HRs, 57 RBIs, .272 BA)
It’s always something.
With Alex Rodriguez it always seems some injury comes up that interrupts his season and rolls him down a highway that is a few exits past his MVP seasons. This pattern has been going since his monster season in 2007 when he played in 158 games and hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 runs and hit .314.
For the past five seasons Rodriguez’s totals have been gradually slipping. The home run totals dropping from 35 to 30 to 30 to 16 and 18 this season. The RBI totals sinking from 103 to 100 to 125 to 62 and now just 57. The batting averages dipping from .302 to .286 to.270 to .276 to .272 this season.
This is not your father’s Alex Rodriguez. The once most-feared hitter in baseball has turned into Scott Brosius before our very eyes and it is pretty to safe to say that age 37 that the vintage A-Rod is not coming back.
After suffering through seasons cut short by a serious hip injury to his injury-plagued 2011 campaign shortened to 99 games because of knee and thumb injuries, this season was supposed to be a big comeback season for Rodriguez.
But after languishing through a terrible first half in which he hit just 13 home runs, drove in a mere 36 runs and hit .266, Rodriguez was struck on the left hand by pitch thrown by Felix Hernandez of the Mariners in Seattle on July 24. A broken bone in the hand shelved him until Sept. 3.
So from the midpoint of the season, Rodriguesz contributed five home runs and 21 RBIs.
A look inside the numbers shows just how far A-Rod’s star has fallen:
- With the bases empty he hit .300.
- With runners in scoring position he hit .230.
- With the bases loaded he hit .200.
His 18 home runs are just two more than he hit in 99 games last season and yet he still hits in the middle of the order as if he was the A-Rod of 2007.
The fact the Yankees are on the hook to pay this large albatross through the 2017 season is quite troubling. When that contract was signed, the Yankees were envisioning Rodriguez becoming the all-time home run champion in pinstripes.
But with Rodriguez stuck on 647 career homers and seemingly unable to hit 20 in a season, he will be lucky to reach 700, much less make to 763 to pass Barry Bonds.
The qustion is how long will the Yankees to allow Rodriguez to underperform for the money his is making and how much he is hurting the Yankees in every game with his strikeouts, weak popups and routine fly balls? Can they afford to keep him? Or are they paying so much for him that they can’t get rid of him?
All I know is what I see and I just see a very sad shell of a player who might be succumbing to aftereffects of performance enhancing drugs. So I do not feel sorry for him. But I do feel sorry for the Yankees being roped into this deal that will hamper their ability to pare salary ahead of the 2014 season.
Rodriguez is also turning into a liability in the field, too.
He made eight errors this season, which sounds OK until you find out he started only 81 games at the position. That total also does not account for the balls that got past him because his surgically repaired hip has robbed him of his lateral quickness. It also does not account for the slow dribblers he was unable to charge fast enough to get the runner at first.
His cannon arm is still there but it can be erratic.
Nope, any way you slice it, A-Rod is just not A-Rod anymore. The sooner Yankee fans realize that the sooner they can stop praying for that game-winning homer in the playoffs. If the Yankees are lucky he will single in a big run with a runner in scoring position.
So don’t get your hopes up for a great postseason for A-Rod. It might turn out like all the ones he produced before his epic postseason in 2009, which brought title No. 27 back to the Bronx. The 28th will have to come some other way.
MIDSEASON GRADE: D
SECOND-HALF GRADE: I
OVERALL GRADE: D
BACKUP – ERIC CHAVEZ (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA)
I have already discussed Chavez in my post about Mark Teixeira.
Because of Rodriguez’s injury, Chavez was the primary backup at third base and he started 50 games there. If Chavez were a younger player and capable of playing every day, he would have either replaced Rodriguez outright or, at the very least, be the lefty part of a platoon at the position.
Of course, that is if A-Rod was not A-Rod and he was not getting paid big bucks.
Chavez was the better fielder here and you can make a case that he was a more productive hitter. He hit 16 home runs in 278 at-bats. A-Rod hit 18 in 463.
If it were me, I might even consider moving Rodriguez the DH spot and starting Chavez at third against right-handers in the playoffs. It just makes good sense.
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
SECOND HALF GRADE: B+
OVERALL GRADE: B
The Yankees also played Jayson Nix, Casey McGehee and Eduardo Nunez at third base this season. With Nix out of the early part of the playoffs with an injury, Chavez will be the primary backup and Nunez will not play here unless it is an emergency.
McGehee will not make the postseason roster.
In the minor leagues the Yankees have a slick-fielding third baseman in Brandon Laird. But Laird, 25, had a mediocre season with the bat at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, hitting just .254 with 15 home runs and 77 RBIs.
With Rodriguez blocking his path to the majors, Laird has to hope he can find an opportunity with another organization. He has some value as a potential corner infield backup because he play first base also.
The Yankees do have a potential star in last year’s first draft pick Dante Bichette Jr., who spent the season at Class-A Charleston.
Bichette, 20, has a long way to go after hitting .248 with three home runs and 46 RBIs. This was after a season in which he was the MVP of the Gulf Coast League in 2011. But he is still young and the Yankees love his bloodlines to former Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette.
He looks to be a keeper for now.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C-
It is rare when you are talking about a three-time MVP being worse than the player who backs him up. But that is what we are dealing with in Rodriguez. Out of loyalty, his past track record and to keep the peace, manager Joe Girardi has refused to take A-Rod out of the middle of the order.
Fine. I understand that. But one would hope if A-Rod falls flat on his face this October that he will have the courage to do it next season.
There is only so much you can take. Seeing him swing through fastballs he used to crush and pop up pitches he used to hit hard over the fence is just frustrating to watch game after game.
Opposing scouts, managers and pitchers already see what Girardi has refused to admit. Maybe it is because of what happened to Joe Torre after he batted Rodriguez seventh in the 2007 playoffs against the Detroit Tigers. Torre lost his job.
Perhaps Girardi sees a similar fate for him if he does it and the team loses a playoff series. Just don’t be surprised if Rodriguez hits .125 and leaves a lot of runners on base this postseason.
The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.
FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (24 HRs, 84 RBIs, .251 BA)
When you look at Mark Teixiera’s career numbers you see the amazing consistency he has provided since 2004, his second season in the majors. He entered the 2012 season as the only active player who had hit 30 or more home runs and drove 100 or more runs for eight consecutive seasons.
Teixeira, 32, was on track to make it nine this season when on Aug. 27 he incurred a Grade 1 strain of his left calf.
He returned to the lineup Sept. 8 and re-injured the calf trying to beat out a double-play grounder that ended a loss against the Orioles in Baltimore. He did not return until Oct. 1, when the Yankees opened their final series of the season against the Red Sox.
Though he blasted a two-run home run in his first game back, Teixeira’s contributions at the plate during the playoffs may be limited. It is unclear how long it will take him to sharpen up his stroke from both sides of the plate.
But Teixeira’s presence in the lineup means far more than what he actually contributes himself. The lineup deepens when he is back in it and, no matter what Teixeira delivers at the plate, he provides world-class defense at first base and saves the pitchers runs and his infield teammates errors.
The only real knock on his game has been the steady decline in his batting average since he signed with the Yankees as a free agent in 2009.
After hitting .259 in his rookie season with Texas, Teixeira batted .281, .301, .282 and .306 in his next four seasons. Teixeira hit .306 and .308 in combined seasons with Texas and Atlanta in 2007 and Atlanta and the Los Angeles Angels in 2008.
But when he joined the Yankees in 2009, Teixera found the short porch in right very inviting, much like his predecessor Jason Giambi did. He hit .292 in 2009 but since then he has hit .256, and .248.
The criticism of his low average stung a bit and Teixeira vowed this season that he would take a new approach into the season with him. He would not be a strict pull hitter, but try to go the other way with pitches. This, he hoped, would raise his average while not hurting his production.
But it was obvious early in the season that Teixeira was struggling with the new approach. In his typically slow April, he hit .244 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.
Teixeira abandoned the approach altogether in May and by the All-Star break he had 14 home runs 46 RBIs and a .247 average. Teixeira basically said: “I do not care what my batting average is. I am paid to hit home runs and drive in runs and that is what I am going to do.”
Judging by his numbers, Teixeira was on a pace in which he would have reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs had he not been injured. Injuries are new with him, too.
Teixeira had not played less than 156 games since 2007, when he played in 132 games.
So you take two things out of Teixeira’s injury this season: No. 1, it a rare occurrence and No. 2, it is just bad luck it happened so late in the season.
Though Teixeira has fallen a notch below the elite first basemen in baseball such as Cecil Fielder of the Detroit Tigers and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds, he is still one of the most productive hitters at his position and he is still considered the elite fielding first basemen in the game.
The proof of his fielding prowess is that Teixeira set a career low by committing only one error all season. That is not a fluke either. He has not committed more than five errors in a season since his rookie year in 2004, when he was shifted to first base by the Rangers for the first time and he was charged with 10.
The error totals don’t really measure how good Teixeira is at first base. He has unbelievable range, cat-quick reflexes, an accurate arm and an uncanny ability to scoop bad throws out of the dirt.
Over the years, the Yankees have gotten excellent glove-work out of first baseman such as Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez. Teixeira could be considered as good as those two if not maybe a bit better. The errors he saves his fellow infielders have become part of his legend now.
So even when Teixeira is slumping at the plate, he contributes so much in the field that it does not show unless he is gone for periods of time like he was this season.
Though Nick Swisher is above average at the position, Teixeira’s defense was missed when he was gone.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
SECOND HALF GRADE: I
OVERALL GRADE: C
BACKUP – ERIC CHAVEZ (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA)
Despite the fact that manager Joe Girardi elected to use Swisher as Teixeira’s primary backup when he was injured, Swisher’s report card will be with the outfielders.
Chavez, 34, made six starts at the position and played in 10 games here during the season. The Yankees also used Casey McGehee and Steve Pearce at the position during Teixeira’s stint on the disabled list.
But Chavez is still considered the primary backup at first base and his season was magical. He avoided injury, which is always a plus considering he has not played more than 137 games since 2006.
Chavez was signed primarily as a backup at third and first base and an occasional designated hitter against right-handers. In those roles Chavez seemed to thrive because, though his midseason numbers were good (six home runs, 16 RBIs and a .270 batting average), his second-half numbers were even better.
He had 10 home runs, 21 RBIs and raised his season average 11 points.Chavez made 50 starts at third base and that is the position for which he collected six consecutive Gold Gloves with the Oakland Athletics from 2001 to 2006. First base is a little tougher for him though he committed only one error at first in his limited time there.
No one can come close to providing the defense Teixeira can at the position but Chavez does not embarrass himself either.
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
SECOND HALF GRADE: B+
OVERALL GRADE: B
The fact that the Yankees were forced to trade for McGehee and sign Pearce as a free agent shows just how devoid of talent the Yankees are at the position in the minor leagues.
Pearce, 29, and former major league slugger Russell Branyan, 36, played the position at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They combined for 22 home runs (11 apiece) there but neither obviously are considered are long-term solutions at the position for the Yankees.
Of course, Teixeira is signed through the 2016 season but the Yankees still need to be looking at grooming a replacement soon.
At Double-A Trenton the Yankees had a pair of powerful right-handed-hitting first basemen in Addison Maruzak and Luke Murton.
Maruszak, 25, had 16 homers, 59 RBIs and hit ,276 and Murton, 26, put up 25 home runs, 68 RBIs and batted .249. But the Yankees do not consider either player a prospect because they are playing at the Double-A level at a decidedly advanced age.
The Yankees do not have a first baseman among their Top 20 minor-league prospects so this position could stand to be strengthened.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C
As long as the Yankees have Teixeira they can count on 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a batting average in the .240s or so. In addition, they will get Gold Glove defense from arguably the best-fielding first baseman in the game.
Teixeira’s consistency is his hallmark. Up to this season, he also has been quite durable. But the Yankees are going to have to admit that as Teixeira gets older he is going to be more susceptible to injury and he will require more rest during the season.
What Teixeira will able to contribute in the playoffs is questionable right now. Because Teixeira has always been a slow starter when the season begins, it stands to reason he might be real rusty when the playoffs begin. He also is not playing at 100 percent on his left calf now.
But just having him in lineup makes it stronger and there is no doubt Teixeira can save runs and errors with is glove. So the sum of all the parts adds up to being a huge positive for the Yankees.
YANKEES 10, BLUE JAYS 7
Let’s make this perfectly clear. This game on Thursday is not going to go down as a Yankee Classic. With both teams combining for 17 runs on 18 hits, 13 walks, two hit batters, an error, two wild pitches and two passed balls, it likely could be disseminated without the expressed written consent of the either team.
But it was a victory for the Yankees and they will take it.
Ichiro Suzuki continued his hot hitting by driving in three runs and Nick Swisher blasted his third grand slam of the season as part of seven-run fourth inning as New York outslugged Toronto to give themselves a one-game lead in the American League East over the idle second-place Baltimore Orioles.
Phil Hughes (16-12) did not so much win this game as he did not lose it. He gave up four runs on four hits and three walks while he struck out nine batters in five innings to collect his team-leading 16th win of the season.
The Yankees, meanwhile, had to wait out soft-tossing left-hander Aaron Laffey (3-6) to throw a pitch within a neighboring area code of the strike zone before they drove him out of the game in the fourth.
The Blue Jays held a slim 2-1 lead in the fourth when Laffey issued a leadoff walk to Russell Martin and Curtis Granderson reached when second baseman Kelly Johnson treated his routine grounder as if it was a hand grenade.
Laffey then issued another one of the five free passes he handed out on the evening to Casey McGehee to load the bases for Suzuki, who started the night 7-for-8 in the series and had homered in his first at-bat off Laffey to lead off the third inning.
Suzuki brought most of the paid crowd of 40,511 at Yankee Stadium to their feet with a two-run double that gave the Yankees their first lead of the night. Little did they know they would hold the lead for the rest of the night.
Manager John Farrell mercifully ended Laffey’s evening in favor of right-hander Brad Lincoln. However, unlike the vehicles that sport his name, Lincoln was neither original or inspired.
Lincoln walked Jayson Nix to refuel the bases to full and he put it in gear to face Derek Jeter. But Jeter stroked a lined single into right to make it 4-2.
Lincoln then wished he could have put the whole thing in reverse or hit the brakes when Swisher smacked a fat 2-1 fastball into the third row of bleachers in right-center over the auxiliary scoreboard to put a serious dent in the Blue Jays’ night and give the Yankees what they thought might be some breathing room so they could rest up for their weekend series with the Oakland Athletics.
Laffey’s line read five runs given up (four earned) on just two hits but five walks and he struck out three in three-plus innings.
However, in his effort to get five innings in for his victory, Hughes surrendered a two-run home run to to rookie Moise Sierra in the bottom of the fifth.
The Yankees got those two runs back in the bottom of the frame off reliever Brett Cecil on RBI singles by Nix and Jeter to make it 10-4.
After Derek Lowe pitched two shaky but scoreless innings, manager Joe Girardi called upon Cory Wade to pitch the eighth.
Wade spent most of the season at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre because he was unable to get anyone out consistently at the major-league level this season. That should have been a huge red flag for Girardi.
Wade opened the third by giving up a solo home run to Johnson that still might be traveling. A single, a strikeout and a double later and Wade was gone in a New York minute. Joba Chamberlain then allowed a an RBI single to Brett Lawrie and a Mike McCoy drove in another run on a fielder’s choice groundout to make it 10-7 .
Chamberlain then gave up a single to Edwin Encarnacion to bring up the tying run in Adam Lind. I bet Girardi loved this part of the game.
Fortunately, Chamberlain got Lind to fly out to medium right and David Robertson struck out the side in the ninth to collect his second save of the season.
It’s a good thing, too. Whew!
With the victory, the Yankees have now officially righted themselves and have won seven of their last eight games. Their season record improved to 86-63 and they have but 13 contests left to play. The Blue Jays are pretty much sucking on the tailpipe of their own Lincoln after having been swept in the series and they are now 66-82.
- All Suzuki did in the three-game series was go 9-for-12 (.750) with a home run, three doubles, four stolen bases, four runs scored and four RBIs. About the only thing he did not do was deliver margaritas in the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar. Girardi has chosen to keep Suzuki in the lineup against left-handers because Andruw Jones seemingly has not gotten a big hit since Memorial Day.
- Swisher struck out three times and walked in the game. However, his grand slam was the biggest hit of the game and it was a game the Yankees needed to win badly. Swisher hit a franchise record-tying 10th grand slam of the season and it was his third. It also was the seventh grand slam of his career. Swisher now has 21 home runs and 83 RBIs on the season. He has hit at least 20 home runs and driven 80 runs in all four of his seasons with the Yankees.
- Hughes tied a franchise record when he struck out four batters in the fourth inning. Hughes struck out in order J.P. Arencibia, Adeiny Hechavarria, Anthony Gose and Lawrie, however, Hechavarria reached first on one of the two passed balls charged to Russell Martin on the evening. A.J. Burnett also did it for the Yankees on June 24, 2011 against the Colorado Rockies.
- The Yankees scored 10 runs but Robinson Cano was 0-for-4 with a walk. That snapped his modest four-game hitting streak and pushed him under the .300 mark this season. Cano is having an unusually quiet September, hitting just .279 with three home runs and eight RBIs.
- Wade had pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings in his two appearances since his Sept. 1 recall but he was tagged hard by the Blue Jays. Wade is 0-1 with a 5.84 ERA on the season after he was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA for the Yankees last season. It is not likely Wade will make the postseason roster and his days with the team appear numbered.
- Martin’s two passed balls give him seven on the season, which is the most he has been charged with in any of his major-league seasons. The Yankees still rave about his defense but it is hard to imagine the Yankees will re-sign him after he thoroughly flopped at the plate this season.
Mark Teixeira took swings in a batting cage at Yankee Stadium before the game on Thursday and he will travel to Tampa, FL, on Monday in order to rehab his left calf strain in some Instructional League games. Teixeira is targeting a Sept 27 return date so he can get in some game action before the playoffs. . . . The Yankees elected not to activate Brett Gardner on Thursday although the move is imminent in the next few days.
The Yankees open a three-game weekend series against the A’s beginning on Friday and they have some payback in mind after they were swept in Oakland.
The Yankees send to the mound left-hander CC Sabathia (13-6, 3.63 ERA). Sabathia has allowed nine earned runs in his last two starts covering 13 innings. Though the Yankees say he is fine, Sabathia has not pitched well since his return from the disabled list with left elbow soreness. He is 8-8 with a 4.80 ERA lifetime against the A’s.
Oakland will start right-hander Jarrod Parker (11-8, 3.51 ERA). Parker allowed two runs on seven hits with one walk and seven strikeouts in seven innings in a victory over the Orioles on Saturday. He is 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA in his one career start against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.
YANKEES 4, ORIOLES 3
The Yankees played a game on Saturday that was very similar to the climatic fight scene with Rocky Balboa in the original “Rocky.” For the first six rounds, I mean innings, they were knocked down, hurt badly and they seemingly were clinging to the ropes in desperation.
But they came off the ropes swinging. It may have not looked pretty but New York sent nine men to the plate and scored three runs in the seventh inning to rally from a 3-1 deficit to down Baltimore and push their lead in the American League East back to three games.
For the first six innings Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (12-8) had the Yankees befuddled.
He retired the first 11 batters he faced in order until Robinson Cano hit an 0-2 pitch that was out of the strike zone over the wall to the opposite field in left for his 28th home run of the season. Of course, at that time Chen and the Orioles still held a 3-1 lead.
When the sixth inning began, Chen had given up only two hits and a walk while striking out four batters.
Steve Pearce, who was only in the game because Curtis Granderson had to leave in the third inning with a tight right hamstring, started off the rally innocently enough with a one-out single, his first hit for the Yankees.
With two out Jayson Nix worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Eduardo Nunez, who was just brought up on Saturday as the rosters expanded, stroked a broken-bat bloop single into left-center to score Pearce and end Chen’s afternoon.
Manager Buck Showalter summoned hard-throwing right-hander Pedro Strop to pitch to Ichiro Suzuki.
But Strop had issues with his command and he walked Suzuki to load the bases. Derek Jeter then ended up down in the count 0-2 before working it back to 3-2. And Strop promptly walked Jeter on an inside slider just out of the strike zone. Score tied.
Nick Swisher then continued the most improbable of two-out rallies by stroking a routine hard-hit grounder to the shortstop who is currently leading the majors in fielding percentage in J.J. Hardy and Hardy inexplicably booted it to allow Nix to score with what turned out to be the winning run.
Most of the 46,122 fans at Yankee Stadium who paid to see this heavyweight matchup stood up and cheered in delight.
It was these same fans who watched in horror as rookie right-hander David Phelps uncharacteristically walked six and hit a batter in his 4 2/3 innings of work.
Phelps walked Nick Markakis to start the game and after a Hardy single advanced him to third Markakis scored on a double-play groundout off the bat of Nate McLouth.
An inning later, Phelps hit Chris Davis with a 3-2 pitch and walked Mark Reynolds to begin the frame. Omar Quintanilla advanced them both on a sacrifice bunt and rookie Manny Machado scored Davis with a single up the middle.
Matt Wieters added the Orioles’ third run by leading off the fourth inning with a home run into the second deck in right-field.
Phelps, though he was wild, did keep the Yankees in the game because he gave up only three hits. The bullpen bailed the rookie out by shutting down the Orioles the rest of the way.
Boone Logan (6-2) pitched two scoreless innings to earn the victory in relief.
David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth inning and Rafael Soriano struck out two of the three batters he retired in the ninth to pick up his 35th in 38 chances this season.
The Yankees improved their season record to 76-56 while the Orioles fell to 73-59. But the damage from the game is that the Orioles blew a golden opportunity to come within a single game of the Yankees. Now they can leave the Bronx no closer than two games behind.
- Jeter’s at-bat against Strop was a classic illustration of what makes “The Captain” so special. Jeter was called out on strikes on a low pitch in sixth inning and he had words about it with home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook. But Jeter fought from 0-2 down in the count to 3-2 and earned the walk from Strop by taking two very close pitches. That was very courageous and it paid off big-time for the Yankees.
- Most Yankee fans will say Phelps stunk and disappointed them. But I would say Phelps showed more strength as a pitcher than I have ever seen in a rookie. He basically had no command and gave up three runs in 4 2/3 innings. He never gave the Orioles a chance to break the game open and he battled with what little he had. That showed me a lot. Phelps is a keeper.
- The most overlooked player in the Yankees’ seventh inning had to be Nix. Nix drew two walks on the day and the second was a big one because it allowed Nunez the chance to drive in Pearce. Nix is hitting .254 but this is a very good role player who gives the Yankees good effort at the plate and he is very steady in the field. Nix does not get enough credit for what he does for the team.
- This team obviously is missing two big weapons in Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. That makes it hard on the rest of the team to step up. But they need to stop making pitchers like Miguel Gonzalez and Chen look like they are Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. The Yankees won on Saturday with just four hits and they used three walks and an error to their benefit. But the offense has to wake up soon.
- Andruw Jones is very close to earning himself a designated for assignment. With Nunez around to bat from the right side, Jones may be out of a job if he keeps putting up 0-fers as he did again on Saturday. He was 0-for-4 and did not get a ball out the infield against a rookie left-hander. He is now hitting .203.
- Russell Martin remains a major liability at the plate. He also was 0-for-4 and his batting average is now .196. With Francisco Cervelli back on the roster it might be time to let him have a shot to see what he can do with the bat. It certainly can’t be worse than what Martin has done.
Granderson had a precautionary MRI at New York-Presbyterian Hospital after the game and it appears his injury is not considered serious. Granderson grimaced as he struck out looking in the second inning and did not come out for the third. Manager Joe Girardi said that Granderson could be in the starting lineup on Sunday. . . . Girardi also told reporters that Rodriguez could rejoin the team in St.Petersburg, FL, on Monday when the Yankees face the Tampa Bay Rays. Rodriguez is rehabbing his fractured left hand at Class-A Tampa and the stint could end on Sunday. . . . Along with Nunez and Cervelli, the Yankees also brought up outfielder Chris Dickerson, left-handed pitcher Justin Thomas and right-handers Cory Wade and Adam Warren. Infielder Casey McGehee will also be added to the roster when Class-A Charleston’s season ends.
The Yankees have a chance to win the rubber game of the series on Sunday against the Orioles.
Phil Hughes (13-11, 4.02 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Hughes is 2-1 and has given up three earned runs over his last 21 innings. He is 5-3 with 5.00 ERA in his career against the Orioles.
Right-hander Chris Tillman (7-2, 3.26 ERA) will start for the O’s. Tillman allowed one hit and struck out five in seven shutout innings to beat the White Sox in his last start. He is 2-3 with a 8.42 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 2, BLUE JAYS 1
The way it has gone for 26-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes lately he might as well toss down a welcome mat and a recliner from his living room on the mound at Yankee Stadium. The reason is that the stadium has become a soothing and comforting “Home, Sweet, Home” to him this season.
Hughes pitched seven solid innings and the Yankees’ offense backed him with some “small ball” as New York edged the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday in front of paid crowd of 42,472.
With the victory Hughes (13-11) extended his undefeated streak to seven games at Yankee Stadium dating back to June 26.
Hughes was touched for an opposite field solo home run to right by rookie third baseman Adeiny Hechavarria with two out in the fifth inning. It was Hechavarria’s first major-league home run and it was the 30th big fly Hughes has served up this season, a new career high.
But Hughes surrendered only four hits overall and three walks and fanned five batters in an outing in which he definitely had better command of his four-seam fastball.
The Yankees, without left-handed hitters Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez in the lineup as well as injured starters Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, staked him to an early 1-0 lead in the third inning off Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero.
With one out Jayson Nix singled to left and Ichiro Suzuki followed with a slow bouncer to third in which Suzuki easily beat out the throw of Hechavarria.
Derek Jeter followed with a fly to deep center that allowed Nix to advance to third and Nix scored on a lined single up the middle by Nick Swisher.
The Yankees could have easily added to their total but Robinson Cano’s hard-hit grounder up the middle was stopped by a diving stab from second baseman Mike McCoy, who threw Cano out at first to save a run.
The Yankees, who were sporting a lineup with newly signed designated hitter Steve Pearce batting cleanup and Russell Martin batting fifth although he was hitting just .196, scratched out another run in the fourth inning behind Pearce and Martin without the benefit of a hit.
Pearce drew a leadoff walk and he advanced to second on a wild pitch. Martin then grounded out to McCoy at second base to advance Pearce to third. Pearce then scored on a long sacrifice fly to center off the bat of Curtis Granderson.
Like Hughes, Romero (8-12) pitched seven innings, giving up two runs on five hits and two walks and he struck out six. With the loss, Romero has now lost 11 straight decisions.
The Yankee bullpen, which leaked like a sieve and blew the game on Monday, had a bounce-back evening on Tuesday.
David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth and closer Rafael Soriano rebounded from his third blow save of the season on Monday to close out the Blue Jays 1-2-3 in the ninth with two strikeouts to earn his 34th save of the season.
With the victory the Yankees have improved their season record to 75-54. They lead the second-place Baltimore Orioles by 3 1/2 games in the American League East and the Tampa Bay Rays are in third place 4 1/2 games back. The Blue Jays are last in the division with a record of 57-71.
- Just when it looked like the starting rotation was heading south, Hughes is beginning to show signs he can pitch well in important games. In his last three starts he is 2-1 with a 1.29 ERA. He also has given up only 13 hits and six walks and struck out 13 in his last 21 innings. He also is 10-3 with a 3.25 ERA at home this season. He is 3-8 with a 5.03 ERA on the road.
- Swisher’s RBI single in the third inning marked his 22rd RBI of the month. Swisher’s best month previously was April when he drove in 23 runs. Swisher was 1-for-3 in the game with a walk and he is hitting .327 in August and he has raised his average from .257 on July 28 to .276.
- On a night when the Yankees’ offense was struggling because their right-handed hitters are so much weaker than their left-handers, Nix was 2-for-3 with a stolen base and a big run scored.
- Soriano certainly had a night of redemption after blowing the save on Monday. He dismissed the Blue Jays on 11 pitches, striking out Adam Lind and Yorvit Torrealba. Though Yankee fans boo him unmercifully when he fails, he remains the unsung hero of the team’s 2012 season for replacing the legendary Mariano Rivera.
- The Yankees are 27-9 against left-handers this season but, with Teixeira and Rodriguez out of the lineup, your grandmother could throw left-handed and get some of these Yankee right-handed batters out. Nix, Jeter and Swisher had four of the five hits and Suzuki was only lefty to get a hit.
- The main culprit from the right side is Andruw Jones, who was 0-for-3 and he did not get a ball out of the infield against Romero. Jones is paid to mash lefties yet he is just 5-for-38 (.132) in August. He has only one homer and three RBIs for the month. Jones better pick it up soon or he could be replaced as the right-handed part of the platoon with Raul Ibanez.
- Despite Martin’s giving himself up to advance a runner, he was 0-for-3 in the game and his average has slipped back to .195. He is not exactly a fearsome presence in the No. 5 spot in the batting order. So the Yankees better hope Rodriguez and Teixeira come back soon.
Teixeira was not placed on the 15-day disabled list because the Yankees are hoping he can return from his strained left calf within the next seven to 10 days. An MRI of the injury Teixeira suffered in fourth inning of Monday’s game against the Blue Jays indicated it is mild (Grade 1) strain. Since the team’s roster will expand on Sept. 1, the team wanted to be sure not to lose Teixiera for the full 15 days if they had placed him on the disabled list. . . . Rodriguez took a major step forward in his rehab of a fractured left hand by taking live batting practice on the field on Tuesday. The 37-year-old third baseman plans to take additional batting practice on Wednesday with hopes of being sent out a short rehab assignment next week. . . . Pearce was acquired on Monday from the Houston Astros for cash considerations and he was immediately inserted into the cleanup spot on Tuesday. Pearce, 29, hit .318 with 11 homers and 30 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before he opted out of his contract. Pearce then later played for Baltimore and Houston this season, hitting .254 with three home runs and 49 games with the two teams. To make room for Pearce on the roster, the Yankees sent infielder Casey McGehee to Class-A Charelston. McGehee will be recalled on Friday when the rosters are allowed to expand.
The Yankees will complete their three-game series with the Blue Jays on Wednesday with the series tied at one apiece.
The Yankees will have their best on the mound in left-hander CC Sabathia (12-3, 3.44 ERA). Sabathia came off the disabled list to hold the Cleveland Indians to one run on Asdrubal Cabrera’s home run in 7 1/3 innings in a victory last Friday. Sabathia fanned nine batters to prove his left elbow is just fine. He is 13-3 with a 3.00 ERA in his career against the Jays.
The Blue Jays will continue the left-handed pitching parade by sending out J.A. Happ (2-1, 4.15 ERa). Happ gave up one run on four hits while striking seven to beat the Detroit Tigers last Thursday. He is 1-0 with a 4.63 ERA against the Yankees in his two career starts against them.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, RED SOX 4
When the New York City Grand Hyatt Hotel elevator opens for Bobby Valentine and the passengers announce the elevator is going down, the embattled Red Sox skipper must be thinking about heading for the stairs. But after Friday’s loss to the New York Yankees, Valentine and the Red Sox must clearly believe that their season is indeed going down – in flames.
Nick Swisher led a five-homer barrage with a pair of solo shots from each side of the plate as New York put yet another proverbial nail in Boston’s 2012 coffin on a rainy night at Yankee Stadium in front of paid crowd of 49,422.
Jayson Nix actually was one of the few Yankees who kept his hit in the yard as he broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning with an RBI single to give the Yankees their eighth victory in their last 10 games and increase their lead over the Red Sox in the American League East to 13 1/2 games.
Phil Hughes (12-10) snapped a personal two-game losing streak by allowing four runs (none of them earned) on four hits and one walk while striking out four in seven solid innings.
Hughes proved to be his own worst enemy after being staked to a 3-0 lead after a solo home run by Swisher in the first inning and Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin went back-to-back with solo home runs in the second inning off Red Sox starter Franklin Morales.
Mike Aviles led off the third inning with a lined single to center. Hughes then botched a potential double-play ball off the bat of Scott Posednik by throwing his relay toss second in the dirt and past Nix into center-field, putting runners on first and third with no outs.
Pedro Ciriaco scored Aviles by beating out another potential double-play ball and Jacoby Ellsbury battled Hughes to earn a 10-pitch walk.
That set the stage for a three-run home run into the left-field bleachers off the bat of Dustin Pedroia, giving the Red Sox a 4-3 lead on four unearned runs.
But the Yankees were not quite finished playing Home Run Derby with Morales.
Derek Jeter connected for his 10th home run of the season and extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a lined blast to left-field with two out in the fifth inning to tie it at 4-4. Morales has served up 11 home runs in 73 2/3 innings this season and eight of them have been to the Yankees.
The Yankees’ game-winning rally started in the sixth with a one-out single to center by Casey McGehee. Granderson followed with a hard-hit single off the wall in right that advanced McGehee to third and Valentine replaced Morales with right-handed reliever Clayton Mortensen.
One out later, Nix stroked a 0-2 slider to the opposite field in right to score McGehee.
Morales (3-4) gave up five runs on six hits and a walk and he fanned three in 5 1/3 innings. In his two starts against the Yankees this season, he has been tagged for 11 runs on 12 hits and three walks in 8 2/3 innings. Of those 12 hits, eight of the hits have been those pesky longballs.
Swisher capped the scoring with a solo home run that chased Mortensen in the seventh inning. It was his 16th home run of the season, his fourth home run over his last five games and it is the 12th time in his career he has hit a homer from both sides of the plate in a game.
David Robertson twirled a scoreless eighth and Rafael Soriano pitched a perfect ninth to record his 30th save in 32 chances this season.
The Red Sox are 3-7 against the Yankees this season and their hopes of getting back into the wild-card race seem about as realistic as Kevin Youkilis throwing a tribute dinner for Valentine. The Red Sox are an anemic 5-11 in August and they seem to have as much life as Ted Williams’ preserved head.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their American League-best record to 71-48 and they are six games ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the A.L. East. The Red Sox are mired in fourth at 58-62 and they are in danger of becoming the team with the highest payroll ever to miss three consecutive postseasons.
- Swisher is on a flat-out tear that seems to have coincided with his move to the No. 2 spot in the batting order. He has at least one RBI in his last six games and is 9-for-25 (.360) with four home runs and 11 RBIs in that span. Swisher has raised his season average to .266.
- Jeter’s 10th home run of the season gives the Yankees 10 players who have 10 or more home runs this season. During his 13-game hitting streak, Jeter is 22-for-64 (.344) with two home runs and eight RBIs. His current hot streak has raised his season average to .319, which leads the team and is fourth in the A.L.
- If you leave out the nightmare third inning, Hughes gave up no runs on two hits and no walks and struck out four in six innings. As it is, Hughes retired 12 of the last 14 hitters he faced after the third. After going 0-2 with a 11.88 ERA in his last two starts, it was a nice bounce-back start for the 26-year-old right-hander.
I could complain about Hughes’ awful throwing error which led to four unearned runs. But the Yankees ratcheted up the power on the Red Sox and have them just about put away for good this season. So there are no real negatives when things look so good for Yankee fans.
Mark Teixeira was unable to play on Friday due to recurring soreness in his left wrist. It is the first game Teixeira has missed since he returned to the lineup on Aug. 3 after having a cortisone shot to ease the inflammation. It is unclear how much time Teixeira will miss. But manager Joe Girardi said he does not expect it to be a long-term issue. Swisher played first in Teixeira’s absence against the Red Sox. . . . CC Sabathia threw on flat ground for the second consecutive day on Friday and it appears he is on schedule to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday and will make a start on Aug. 24 in Cleveland against the Indians. Sabathia has been sidelined with soreness in his left elbow.
The Yankees can embarrass the Bosox some more in a nationally telecast game on Saturday.
The Yankees will start 25-year-old rookie right-hander David Phelps (3-3, 2.53 ERA), who won his first major-league game as a starter by beating the Texas Rangers on Monday. Phelps gave up two runs on six hits and one walk and fanned three in five innings. He has no record and a 4.50 ERA in limited relief work against the Red Sox in his career.
The Red Sox will start left-hander Jon Lester (6-10, 5.20 ERA). Lester gave up one run on three hits and struck out 12 in his last start against the Indians on Sunday. However, Lester is 0-1 with a 6.97 ERA in his two starts against the Yankees this season.
Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.